Rosacea on the Ropes? Hopkins-GSK Collaboration Could Find Cure for Skin Conditions
Rosacea affects 16 million Americans, and contact dermatitis afflicts millions more. However, a unique industry-academic collaboration between a Johns Hopkins doctor and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) could soon change that, either through the development of a cure or a more effective treatment for those skin conditions.
Dr. Xinzhong Dong, a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist, has discovered a link between a particular mast cell receptor and allergic-type reactions to foreign substances. The link makes that particular receptor an attractive target for the development of drugs that block the mast cell’s allergic-type side effects, including itchiness, redness and rashes.
“Though we haven’t shown conclusively that targeting this receptor with the right drugs can cure these conditions, that is our hypothesis,” Dong says.
With little experience in drug development, Dong says it would have been difficult to start a company that focused on finding treatments. Another option was to hand it off to a pharmaceutical company. Instead, he applied to GSK’s Discovery Fast Track Challenge as an avenue to collaborate with the pharmaceutical company and, hopefully, identify drugs that act on the target and either cure the diseases or relieve the associated symptoms.
GSK’s Discovery Fast Track Challenge, like similar collaboration opportunities offered by Bayer, Pfizer CTI, Celgene, AbbVie, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and others, is designed to combine the individual strengths of pharmaceutical companies and academia to accelerate drug discovery.
“Although principal investigators at universities have novel ideas for treating patients, can identify targets and generate early proof of concept data toward that goal, they often don’t have the resources to build on their findings to directly develop new medicines,” says Nakisha Holder, senior technology transfer associate at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures (JHTV). “Pharmaceutical companies have the drug development infrastructure and expertise that make these collaborations effective.”
In 2014, Dong pitched his concept to a panel of GSK judges and was named one of six North American Challenge winners. This fall, after about a year of collaboration, Dong and GSK agreed to continue their working relationship as the collaboration has shown early promise for the development of an effective treatment for rosacea and contact dermatitis. This is the first such agreement, termed a Discovery Partnerships with Academia agreement (DPAc), between a Hopkins doctor and GSK.
“Collaborations like this really give basic researchers like me the opportunity to achieve our dreams,” Dong says. “We want to see that our research can translate into a real drug, but it’s a difficult path. The best path is to go with a company who has a lot of experience in developing a drug.”
“It’s a win-win situation,” Dong continues. “We can move this process much faster by collaborating.”
Interest in industry-academic collaborations has grown at Hopkins due to word-of-mouth and through the efforts of JHTV’s Corporate Partnerships team, Holder says. This year, for example, a dozen Hopkins researchers applied to be part of the Discovery Fast Track Challenge, up from four in 2014.
For additional information related to ongoing partnerships, interested researchers can contact Corporate Partnerships Associate Kellin Krick at firstname.lastname@example.org.